The only photograph that exists of Sophie (sent to me in the fall of 2011 by the RSCJ archivist in Rome, and obviously taken by a stealth photographer!) is of her praying in the chapel at the Paris school on the rue de Varenne. The inscription from the archive reads, “Notre Vénérable Mere prise d’après Nature en 1853, à la p.te tribune à la r. de Varenne. Elle regarde le S.t Tabernacle de la chapelle détruite . . .” (“[A photo of] our venerable Mother taken from nature in 1853, in the little tribune at the rue de Varenne [the Hôtel Biron]. She is gazing at the holy tabernacle in the chapel destroyed . . .” )
Sophie steadfastly refused to have her portrait painted or her photo taken throughout her life. But this doesn’t mean that artists haven’t tried to render her image. At the Centre Sophie Barat in Joigny, there is a painting of her as a little girl, sitting in a room at her home and seemingly receiving a visit from the Holy Spirit!
The same beatific expression, eyes cast heavenward, illuminates her face in portraits of her as an adult religious.
More recent artists have rendered her in a more realistic fashion, emphasizing her compassion and personal magnetism—eyes cast downward toward the world. The second image is a recently completed mural on the wall of the Sacred Heart school in Miami.
Ann Davidson, RSCJ, a California-based icon artist, has depicted the first meeting of Sophie and Philippine in Grenoble. Among other things, the work demonstrates the Sophie’s tiny physical stature: she stood a mere 4’ 10”! To the right is a black and white wall hanging painted by American artist Peter William Gray.
A portrait that some believe to be the most realistic depiction of Sophie now hangs in the RSCJ Archives in Rome.
Another stealth portrait is the one sketched by Pauline Perdrau (the painter of Mater Admirabilis) as Sophie was knitting. Here we see her at a homely task from which she derived great pleasure. This photo is taken from a display poster at the Centre Barat in Joigny.
Pauline, who was not allowed by Sophie to paint her during her lifetime, was called in to paint her portrait on her deathbed but could not bring herself to do so (Kilroy, madeleinesophiebarat.com), so a photographer was called in and took the following photo. Sophie is 85 years old.
In 2009, Sophie’s chasse was taken back to Paris. Her body now lies in the Chapel of the Sacred Heart in the church of Saint Francois Xavier, just kitty corner from the Mother House in which she died in 1865. Here workers carefully reinstall her in her gold and crystal coffin. (What you see is a wax mask that was placed over her face; when she was exhumed in 1893 as part of the canonization process, her body was completely intact.)
In the spring of 2012, Clare Pratt, RSCJ and former Superior General (2000-2008), shared the following image with me—a rather modernist depiction of Sophie by noted German artist Ruth Schaumann.